Prolific producers Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuck recently turned their attention to the drama of first responders.
It’s a busy landscape currently covered with such titles as Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, SWAT, Station 19, NCIS, and Hawaii Five-0 amongst others. In 9-1-1 they link fire / paramedics and policing with the LA emergency call centre, personified through the character of operator Abby Clark (Connie Britton).
Abby is 42 and single with an ailing mother at home battling late stage Alzheimer’s. Juggling all kinds of distress calls at work, she asks, “Is it weird that I feel more comfortable dealing with these kinds of emergencies than the one I have to deal with when I leave work and go home?” Pointedly, her role also entails the ultimate cliffhangers. Callers usually hang up once help arrives. “It’s usually for the best I don’t know how it ends…” she reveals.
9-1-1 inserts a chapter graphics as plot point emergencies land, as if to punctuate the next current crisis. The first is a teaser, a poolside drowning, while the second begins when a man telephones to report a baby crying “inside the walls” of his apartment block.
The local LA Fire Department is headed up by Captain Bobby Nash (Peter Krause) a recovering alcoholic who admits “We all find ways to cope” with the pressure of the job: drinking, gambling, drugs, sex addicts. He is already challenged by arrogant and horny young gun ‘Buck’ (Oliver Stark), who also seems to have the nickname ‘Hose’ (go figure).
Upon arrival at their emergency they discover somebody has flushed a newly-born baby into the plumbing system. If these stories are inspire by fact, then America is in a whole lotta trouble one drama can’t possibly address.
Meanwhile LAPD patrol sergeant Athena Grant (Angela Bassett), who has her own crisis on a domestic front, also has issues with fireman Buck.
Opening episode emergencies also include a suicide “jumper” and one involving a killer python before the climactic crisis surrounding a home break-in and a desperate call from the sole occupier, a 9 year old girl. Here Abby will draw on all her best skills to provide assistance and assurance as danger mounts.
For a Murphy / Falchuck production, 9-1-1 is as network as they come. Heavily action-driven, it’s broadly entertaining with a multicultural cast and hints of raising deeper issues usually avoided by network television. “It’s not 1958 anymore we work with women side by side,” Captain Bobby will tell hot-headed himbo, Buck.
The cases aim for bizarro and quirky just as legal dramas LA Law and Boston Legal have done before and the star cast, grounded by having Angela Bassett front and centre, is solid.
Yet there are occasional lapses into melodrama and unrealistic reactions in the middle of a crisis, usually involving attraction or flirting when experienced first responders supposedly know what the priority is. Thankfully, it’s a minor quibble in what is an attempt to strike an action drama, with touches of character, for a wide audience. Seven has managed to nab the drama as a result of changes to FOX output deals in Australia.
I’m hoping Connie Britton (Nashville, American Horror Story) isn’t “wasted” being tied to the screens like an NCIS or Criminal Minds supporting character, but I have faith Murphy has plans to develop her role, likely on the domestic front. Fleshing out the flaws of these heroes will be what gives this longevity.
9-1-1 doesn’t match the theatrics of American Horror Story, The Assassination of Gianni Versace nor the sheer drama platform of Feud, but neither are these its brief. Buckle up for broad fun.
9-1-1 airs 8:30pm Wednesday on Seven.